Amongst the absolute glut of octagonal cage fighting this week, the UFC’s busiest fight-week in history’s version of hump day is primed to deliver enough action to recharge the batteries of the staunchest of marathon-viewers.
If we were to place all 31 fights on one card, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if a couple “…of-the-night” bonuses came from within Friday’s TUF 22 Finale.
With a main event that, in all likelihood, will determine the next featherweight title challenger, an absolute war-in-the-waiting between 155ers, yet another glass-plaque winner, and a scrap between veteran lightweights that makes you wonder why it hasn’t happened already, this card is almost incapable of being boring.
Frankie Edgar vs Chad Mendes
If you aren’t excited about the future of the featherweight division, kindly turn in your Fan-Card with the doorman on the way out.
The possible shakeups in the featherweight top-15 this week are numerous and Friday’s main event is near the top of that list.
Frankie Edgar (19-4-1; 13-4-1) has been on a tear, winning 4 straight since a trifecta of title losses to Benson Henderson and Jose Aldo. Arguably the UFC’s most resilient fighter, Edgar’s heart is nearly as great as his skill, and with his perpetually crisp boxing, smooth footwork and powerful wrestling, he is a handful for anybody at 145lbs.
Wait, did I just describe Chad Mendes (17-3; 9-3)? I very well could have. Swap out Edgar’s durability with knockout power and leave all the rest, you’ve just built Chad “Money” Mendes.
Mendes rode a 5-fight win streak into an unsuccessful bid at Aldo’s title. He rebounded with a spectacular performance against Ricardo Lamas before taking a short-notice fight in which he was knocked out by McGregor.
These two fighters are as evenly matched as you’d be likely to find and there can be no doubt this fight will be the proverbial barnburner.
Depending on how the next few days shake out, we may very well have the answer to who is fighting whom for the 145lb strap next.
Artem Lobov vs Ryan Hall
In a TUF finale that unfortunately does a lot to prove that the shows fights, tournament and title don’t matter as much as who the coaches are and what they do on camera, two replacement fighters will take the stage to vie for the hunk of glass.
After visa issues, stemming from inaccurate information being provided during the application process, prevented semifinal winner Saul Rogers from entering the US, Rogers’ quarterfinals victim Ryan Hall (4-1) was selected as his replacement in the tourney final.
Hall will be facing off with Artem Lobov, who had lost in the show’s elimination round, only to be brought back by Coach McGregor in a second-chance opportunity. Lobov did show strong in the semifinals, however, knocking out Julian Erosa.
When the finale seems like a botched exercise in “pick a name from the hat,” this fight and season title losses some of its luster. Let’s hope the fight itself can serve as redemption.
Edson Barbosa vs Tony Ferguson
A contender for fight-of-the-week, let alone the night, lightweight boogeyman, Tony Ferguson (19-3; 9-1) will go to battle opposite 155lb Kicknado, Edson Barboza (16-3; 10-3) in what is essentially the evening’s co-main event.
Human highlight-reel Barboza is riding a respectable record coming into this one. The Brazilian is 3-1 in his last 4, with the lone loss a decision to fellow contender Michael Johnson. “Junior” is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him muay Thai machine who is always capable of ending fights with his lower extremities.
“El Cucuy” has built perhaps the quietest 6-fight win streak since Neil Magny and is 12-1 in his last 13, going back to before his UFC debut. Ferguson’s most recent win came by unanimous decision over former Strikeforce champion Josh Thompson. Ferguson is highly underrated and has scary skills everywhere to make it a long (or very short) night for any opponent. With a well-deserved step up in competition and card placement, let’s see if he can take advantage.
Evan Dunham vs Joe Lauzon
This lightweight tilt just feels like it should have taken place in 2010. That’s not to say either one of these fighters has gone the way of Ken Shamrock, it’s just a wonder how these two haven’t yet crossed paths.
Longtime UFC veteran and bonus kingpin Joe Lauzon (25-10; 12-7) has clearly and consistently delivered exciting fights throughout his tenure, as evidenced by his $600k in post-fight bonus money. After nearly a decade in the UFC, J-Lau hasn’t shown much in the way of slowing down. The slick submission specialist is 3-1 in his last 4 fights, his sole loss a TKO to Al Iaquinta. In his most recent fight, however, Lauzon pounded out a first-round TKO of MMA legend Takanori Gomi.
Staying with the theme of evenly matched fighters, the well rounded skillset of veteran Evan Dunham (16-6; 7-6) has served him well in his long UFC tenure. Dunham hit an uneviable schedule in 2013-14, losing three straight to a murderer’s row of lightweights in Barboza, current #1 contender Donald Cerrone and current champ Raphael dos Anjos. He has since, however, rebounded with consecutive victories over Ross Pearson and Rodrigo Damm.
These two have been around the block a time or ten. With their experience, confidence and balanced skillsets, this could be one hell of a fight…fingers crossed.
Ryan LaFlare vs Mike Pierce
On paper, this welterweight fight seems very even. Both Ryan LaFlare (11-1; 4-1) and Mike Pierce (17-6; 9-4) are talented grapplers with decent hands. Both are coming off losses and both were riding 4-fight winning streaks going into those losses. Fights don’t take place on paper, though. They take place on canvas. Sorry, a little stationary humor.
Off of said paper, is where you find the differences and where things get interesting. While both fighters suffered losses in their most recent bouts, LaFlare’s “recent” came 9 months ago in a decision loss to Demian Maia. While 9 months may be a long time to be out of action, Pierce hasn’t competed since October of 2013, submitting to Rousimar Palhares, a fight after which “Paul Harris” left the UFC, apparently trying to take Pierce’s leg with him to WSOF.
Both fighters are skilled grapplers and, while both were riding 4-fight streaks, those streaks illustrate the gap in their striking with LaFlare taking four decisions and Pierce tacking on two knockouts along the way.
Pierce’s history has shown superior standup and power to his opponent, but with two years on the shelf, he will have some ring rust to knock off before he can think about the knockout.
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1)
Tatsuya Kawajiri (34-8-2; 2-1) vs Jason Knight (12-2; 0-0)
Julian Erosa (14-2; 0-0) vs Marcin Wrzosek (10-2; 0-0)
Konstantin Erokhin (5-1; 1-0) vs Gabriel Gonzaga (16-10; 11-9)
Geane Herrera (5-0; 1-0) vs Joby Sanchez (7-1; 1-1)
Chris Gruetzemacher (11-1; 0-0) vs Abner Lloveras (15-7-1; 0-0)